Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel in Washington Friday. The two leaders discussed elections in Iran and developments regarding Syria, and reaffirmed that their two countries will continue to work together to counter threats posed by Iran and remain prepared for a range of contingencies.
At the meeting, Ya’alon said the Iranian election will “make no difference,” because its results will be determined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Khamenei will be the one to determine the identity of the next president. We have to be tougher with Iran on the diplomatic front,” Ya’alon said, calling for stricter sanctions.
“It must be clear to them that the military option is on the table,” he said.
“Secretary Hagel and Minister Ya’alon also discussed the ongoing violence in Syria and condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. “Both noted the complexities of the situation and resolved to remain in close contact and continue to share information to support the defense of Israel.”
On the Syrian issue, Ya’alon said it was time to “brace for a lengthy civil war” as rebels struggle to secure more of the country from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Ya’alon, for whom this was the first visit to Washington since being sworn in as defense minister in March, arrived at the Pentagon aboard a MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Hagel announced in April that the United States would make the V-22 available to Israel “as part of an unprecedented package of advance military capabilities that will increase Israel’s qualitative military edge,” Little said. At Quantico, he added, Ya’alon and his delegation experienced some of the Osprey’s unique capabilities as Israel plans to incorporate the aircraft into future military planning.
Ya’alon’s arrival in Washington coincided with the Obama administration’s announcement, Friday, that it would be sending weapons to help Syrian rebels groups fighting against Assad’s forces. The decision to arm the rebels, after nearly two years of fighting, came on the heels of a US announcement that it had conclusive evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces.
Ahead of his visit, analysts predicted Ya’alon would do all in his power to convince his counterpart that Israel’s three red lines regarding strikes on Syrian soil are firm and that the US should do its utmost to convince Russia, Iran, and Syria that Israel is not bluffing.
On April 22, Ya’alon, standing alongside Hagel in Tel Aviv, had articulated three scenarios in which Israel would strike in Syria: if chemical weapons crossed into rogue hands, if Syria launched a cross-border attack against Israel, and if the regime transferred sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.
And on three occasions Israel has reportedly acted. Once, in January, to thwart the transfer of a surface-to-air missile system called SA-17 and twice in May, apparently destroying an Iranian, Hezbollah-bound shipment of medium-range rockets called Fateh-110s.
However, earlier Friday, Ya’alon made a mildly surprising statement regarding future Israeli intervention in Syria, saying it would not do anything to interfere, in part because any such intervention could harm the side Israel favors.
“Any Israel intervention might affect the side that we might support, not for its benefit,” he said during an address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
It was not entirely clear what Ya’alon meant by “the side that we might support,” since Israel has said repeatedly that it is not taking sides in the Syrian conflict.
Also on Friday the US House of Representatives passed a new defense authorization bill that would make it US policy to take “all necessary steps” to ensure Israel is able to “remove existential threats,” among them nuclear facilities in Iran.
“It is the policy of the United States to take all necessary steps to ensure that Israel possesses and maintains an independent capability to remove existential threats to its security and defend its vital national interests,” read the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act passed Friday.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report